In a speech to tens of thousands of supporters outside his presidential palace in the capital, Sanaa, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh said on Friday that he was prepared to relinquish power, but only to "safe hands." Saleh was at once defiant and conciliatory, voicing a willingness to meet with the opposition even as he described them as a "small minority" of drug dealers and Huthis (rebel Shiites in the north) and vowed to "preserve the security, independence and stability of Yemen by all possible means,"
Protesters are greeting Saleh's "Friday of Tolerance and Peace" with their own "Friday of Departure." They're gathering in Sanaa's Tahrir Square and calling for mass protests after Friday prayers. The protesters are demanding Saleh's immediate departure, a new constitution, and a new civilian-led government.
The Wall Street Journal broke the news on Thursday that Saleh and rival military general Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar were working on a deal to resign by Saturday and usher in a civilian-led transitional government, but the Journal is now reporting that there is disagreement over whether Saleh's eldest son and two nephews--who head elite counterterroism units that work closely with the U.S.--will retain their posts, given that a change in command structure could strengthen the hand of al Qaeda cells in the country. Saleh also wants to guarantee that he and his family have immunity from prosecution and that any transitional authority includes allies like the current vice president or prime minister, the Journal adds.
Earlier on Friday, witnesses told the Associated Press that Yemeni security forces were preventing protesters from reaching Sanaa but allowing pro-Saleh demonstrators to enter the capital in buses. Al Jazeera was also reporting clashes between presidential guards loyal to Saleh and army units protecting the protesters. Last Friday, Yemeni security forces killed over 50 protesters, prompting General Ahmar and many other public figures to side with the opposition. Ahmar has urged the protesters to be patient and has dismissed suggestions that he wants to take control of the country.
In an op-ed in The New York Times, Gregory Johnsen contemplates what will happen after Saleh leaves, whenever that may be. "The momentary alliances forged by common opposition to Mr. Saleh will not survive his departure," Johnson writes. "Activists from the south, for example, say the revolution is the first step toward reclaiming an independent state for their region." He recommends that the U.S. and its allies invest in development in Yemen, not just counterterrorism. "If Mr. Saleh falls and the international community fails this time, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula will be waiting in the wings," he concludes.